Do you feel like the only one who has a real problem with overeating? Do you think everyone else has it together and only eats until comfortably full? That you’re the only one who eats a too-big dinner, or has a huge snack attack in the evening on the couch, or scarfs down half the pantry when you get home from work?
Trust me girlfriend – you are NOT alone.
Overeating is one of the most common issues I see as a nutritionist. And I’m well qualified to chat with you about about this, because I’ve struggled with overeating too.
That’s why I want to share some simple home-truths with you today about overeating. Because I feel like ‘overeating’ is becoming the next ‘sugar’ type of problem.
Remember a few years ago, when sugar was the root of all evil? And all you had to do to fix your life, repair your relationships and get the job promotion was to give up sugar? (Or so they said).
So everyone gave up sugar, felt virtuous and fantastic.
Only it didn’t bring about world peace, or make you the happier person you thought you’d become. So there was that.
And now there is ‘overeating’. Seemingly the worst of the seven deadly sins – a.k.a. gluttony.
If you’ve seen Brad Pitt in the movie Seven, I can understand why you feel a little guilty about overeating. But I’m here to remind you, it’s not a mortal sin.
Note: If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s a quick synopsis: A serial killer begins murdering people according to the seven deadly sins (including gluttony). Two detectives, one new to the city and the other about to retire, are tasked with apprehending the criminal. Brad is the newbie, and his old flame Gwyneth Paltrow played his girlfriend in the movie. It’s important to mention this, because the ending centres around poor Gwyneth and it isn’t pretty. Yikes.
Overeating versus Gluttony
Overeating in the most basic terms, is eating more food energy than your body needs.
A glutton, on the other hand, is someone who is an excessively greedy eater. So they eat and drink excessively; but the overeating is also approached consciously and with a selfish attitude. So it doesn’t happen by accident, it’s a conscious decision to eat as much as possible without regard to what fellow diners might want or need to eat from shared food, for example.
Now would you truly classify yourself as a consistently selfish eater?
- Do you take the food out of your kid’s hands?
- Do you grab the last cookie on the plate before asking if anyone else wants it?
- Do you dish yourself up a bigger serving than everyone else, even when you know they need as much food as you?
I could go on and on. But hopefully you get the point. A glutton is someone who willingly seeks to overeat at the expense of others.
You are not a glutton if you sometimes overeat. Even if you overeat regularly that doesn’t necessarily make you a glutton.
So please, for now, put aside the moral judgements of yourself. Let’s take an honest look at the nitty-gritty of overeating.
#1. Normal Eaters Overeat Too
I could just leave it at the heading right here. But let me say it again – normal weight, normal, average, joe-average, run-of-the-mill, regular eaters overeat sometimes too.
Yes they do.
The difference between them and us, is that they don’t feel guilty about overeating when they sometimes do it.
Maybe the meal was particularly delicious, or it was a fave meal of theirs, whatever the reason – they don’t over-analyse it. They know it was an occasional thing and they move on.
TIP: Acknowledge that this is a common thing, you are not isolated and the only one who overeats.
#2. Overeating Is Common For Ex-Dieters
If you’ve done a bit of dieting in your time, then don’t be surprised that you overeat sometimes now.
Why? Because your poor brain is trying to protect your body from the next (self-imposed) famine.
It doesn’t know that you were purposely starving yourself. It thinks you were in a desert somewhere, without food.
So it helpfully boosts your hunger and gets you to eat plenty now, to prepare for the next (self-imposed) famine.
Lots and lots of ex-dieters find themselves overeating when they first give up dieting and are learning how to become intuitive eaters.
So consider it a normal part of the process and try not to worry about it.
TIP: With time and a judgement-free approach, you and your body will slowly learn to trust that you’re not dieting any more. That food will always be around. That you won’t be starving again. And gradually you’ll begin to overeat less frequently.
#3. Overeating Is Common In The Early Stages of Intuitive Eating
Oh boy is it ever and I’m here as living proof!
My history is dotted with more food rules and restrictions, rather than formal diets. So I used to have all these self-imposed rules about what I was allowed to eat and when.
So when I discovered intuitive eating and ditched all the rules, I started overeating a lot. I just felt compelled, thanks to the freedom, to push myself to the boundaries and over. I wanted to test out those feelings of “I can eat whatever I want.”
For new intuitive eaters, that often means eating past full in the early stages. And that’s completely normal.
It takes a lot of eating and settling in on this new journey before you’re ready to even think about “stopping eating”.
And so that means there may be a good dose of overeating in the early stages. So what should you do?
TIP: Rather than judging yourself for overeating, try to be “in the moment” with the eating. What are you feeling? Are you still enjoying the food? Does it taste as good? Try to relax and observe what you’re feeling and doing, without judgement. You’ll learn lots about yourself. Whereas judgement does nothing but make you feel guilty.
This brings me to my next point….
#4. Focus On Honouring Your Hunger First, Before Worrying About Overeating
When I’m coaching new clients I almost always start working with them on honouring their hunger first, not their fullness.
Because part of being able to willingly honour fullness and stop eating, is trusting that you will be able to eat again as soon as you’re hungry.
If you’ve dieted in the past, or just not been in touch with your hunger and fullness, then a part of you subconsciously may not trust that you’ll get to eat again when you’re hungry. So whenever you’re eating, you may feel compelled to keep eating past full (a.k.a. overeating) to make sure you get as much food as possible in that moment.
What we want to do is build up trust in ourselves. To really trust that we will always honour our hunger with satisfying food.
When you know deep down that you can trust yourself to honour your hunger….
When your body knows deep down that it can trust you to honour your hunger….
Only THEN, will you feel ready to stop eating at comfortable fullness, safe in the knowledge that your next meal/snack will arrive.
TIP: Focus first on ensuring you can expertly sense your hunger cues and then honour them with satisfying food. Get this sorted and you’ll be well on your way to dropping some of the unintentional overeating. Read this fab post about honouring your hunger (to prevent overeating) right here.
5. Catastrophising Will Worsen Your Overeating
It’s easy to feel guilt and shame when you overeat.
I know what I felt like as a nutritionist who was overeating. Deep, deep shame. How come I couldn’t get it together? I had all the knowledge and still couldn’t do it right.
I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t broken and to just trust in the journey.
It’s really easy in those moments to think you’ve “blown it” and to just dive into the pantry and eat even more food.
Feeling like you’ve already messed things up, you think “to hell with this” and “I’ll never get this sorted” so you want to just eat your pain away.
But this is simply not true.
Don’t catastrophise and make things seem worse than they are.
So you overate, big deal. It’s all part of the learning process, like a toddler falling over when learning to walk, or a young child falling off their bicycle when learning to ride.
They don’t give up, they get up and keep trying.
You need to do the same here. Eating more and more food, in shame because you overate, is like that young child throwing their bike in a dumpster because they fell off and gave up.
TIP: Have a good look at how your mindset may be sabotaging your eating habits.
6. Overeating Does Not Affect Your Worth
You are no less worthy a person because you overeat.
Don’t let that thought settle even for a minute, that somehow you are a failure as a person because you overeat. You are not a failure.
In fact, maybe it’s time to rethink how you assess your self-worth.
Are you putting too much emphasis on your body weight or your appearance as measures of your self-worth?
Do you feel like you’re only worthy if you’re the right weight, or looking good?
Because that’s simply not true.
I’d challenge you to relook at how you measure your self-worth.
For me as a Christian, I remind myself constantly that “I am His beloved”. That God loves me deeply and unconditionally. So what anyone else thinks about my tummy rolls or anything else is irrelevant. My physical form is not a measure of my self-worth.
Other people may focus on their worth as a member of their family. They know they are valued because they see their value reflected in their family members.
TIP: Focus on all the other things that are fantastic about you, other than your weight or appearance. There’s a lot of good research showing that depending on your weight or appearance for self-worth is likely to increase your feelings of depression, anxiety and reduce your satisfaction with life.
Remember we’re on a journey with intuitive eating, there is no straight line path from A to B with intuitive eating. Unlike dieting, which had a strict (and completely unrealistic) straight path to your goal weight. Give yourself grace on this journey.
Happy + healthy eating,
P.S. Wanna know more about how to overcome overeating? Check out this free PDF, it’s jam-packed with more helpful tips to overcome overeating: